Best cheap distortion pedals 2024: get your perfect rock tone for less money

Distortion is, arguably, the most widely used effect in the guitar world. From a light sprinkle of grit to dank, overly saturated fuzz, the best cheap distortion pedals we're looking at today will take the sound of your guitar to another level, using some of the simplest and most effective methods imaginable, and for less money than you'd expect.

There’s something truly magical about hearing a sound traverse the sonic spectrum, from jangly clean to something far more harmonically rich. 

In this guide, we’ve rounded up some of the best cheap distortion pedals around today. Pedals to help your solos soar and add that extra dimension of heaviness to those chugging riffs. And, best of all, with the pedals we’ve collated here, you too can achieve this wondrous effect for not a lot of cash at all.

Best cheap distortion pedals: Quick list

Best cheap distortion overall

Best cheap distortion pedals: Boss DS-1

(Image credit: Boss)

1. Boss DS-1

Best for non-metal distortion sounds

Specifications

Controls: Tone, Level, Distortion
True bypass? : No

Reasons to buy

+
Simple to use
+
Solid build quality
+
Great for beginners

Reasons to avoid

-
Not the most versatile tonally

Another classic on the list, the Boss DS-1 has surely been the ‘first’ pedal many a guitarist has got to grips with over the years. The combination of a low price point, rigid build quality and perfectly usable distortion sounds have made it a staple for players of all experience levels. 

It’s possibly not the option to choose if you’re looking for that crushing low-end you’d find in more extreme metal styles, but as a tool in the arsenal of pretty much any other genre, the Boss DS-1 distortion pedal is a solid option.

Best MOSFET distortion

Best cheap distortion pedals: DOD Gunslinger

(Image credit: DOD)

2. DOD Gunslinger

Best for something different

Specifications

Controls : High, Low, Gain, Level
True bypass? : Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Works well with amp gain
+
Unique sound

Reasons to avoid

-
No direct mid-range control

The reborn DOD pedals continue to impress, with the Gunslinger a worthy addition to this list. We liked the MOSFET flavour here; more fizz than chunk, so it imparted a nice extra dimension when used in conjunction with our amp’s gain. 

The high and low controls are responsive enough, and reward more dynamic playing styles, but we can’t help wish we also had control over the pedal’s midrange sounds. For the price though, it’s a great alternative to some of the more widely-used pedals in the list. 

Best cheap distortion for punk

Best cheap distortion pedals: ProCo RAT 2

(Image credit: Pro Co)

3. ProCo RAT 2

Best for classic distortion on a budget

Specifications

Controls: : Distortion, Filter, Volume
True bypass? : Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Practically unbreakable
+
Covers a range of sounds

Reasons to avoid

-
Single EQ control

The original ProCo RAT is surely one of the best-known and most widely-used distortion pedals of all time, appearing at the feet of some of rock guitar’s biggest names for decades. The new version picks up the baton and changes… not a huge amount. But that’s fine! 

The RAT 2 works nicely in conjunction with amp gain, meaning you can dial in as much or as little as you need to jumpstart your on-stage tone. Plenty of players use the RAT as little more than a boost pedal, although there is bags of raspy character on offer if you need it. We’re also big fans of its build quality. This is a solid pedal, so much so that ProCo offers a five-year warranty on it, even if you happen to abuse the poor thing so much it falls apart. That’s confidence for you. 

Most affordable distortion pedal

Best cheap distortion pedals

(Image credit: Behringer)

4. Behringer OD-300

Best for low-cost versatility

Specifications

Controls: Level, Tone, Drive, Mode
True bypass?: No

Reasons to buy

+
Cheap as chips
+
Versatile

Reasons to avoid

-
Build quality isn’t the best

For players searching for an inexpensive way to add both overdrive and distortion to their sound, the Behringer OD-300 might be just the ticket. Sure, it looks garish and the build quality is nothing to write home about, but the ability to choose via a control knob whether you want drive, distortion or a blend of the two is brilliant. 

For beginners, it’s pretty much the perfect package to help you decide whether your tonal needs are best served by drive or distortion. Credit too for the ability to power the pedal by a standard 9v battery, which isn’t a given at this price range. At this price, even when you’ve outgrown it you can keep one in your gigbag as a backup.

Best cheap distortion for rock

Best cheap distortion pedals: TC Electronic Grand Magus

(Image credit: TC Electronic)

5. TC Electronic Grand Magus

Best for heavier rock

Specifications

Controls: Gain, Volume, Tone
True bypass?: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Top-loading jacks is neat
+
Nicely balanced tone
+
Heavyweight case

Reasons to avoid

-
Tone control doesn’t sweep very far

If you’re familiar with the Swedish band Grand Magus, then you’ll instantly picture the tones on offer from the TC Electronic Grand Magus. If not, then allow us to paint a picture. Too heavy to be called rock, but definitely not metal, Grand Magus (the band and pedal) occupies the middle ground and does it with aplomb. Think of a heavy tone, but one which still allows clarity from individual notes without becoming oversaturated. The pedal offers a simple set of controls, covering gain and volume, along with a tone control which helps shape the EQ slightly (although not a huge amount, it must be said.)

We liked the overall build quality and the fact the jack connections are at the top of the pedal – meaning it can sit nicely on top of an amp as an always-on tone sculptor without falling off. Most of all, however, we liked the price, which is peanuts for one of the more characterful pedals in the list.

Best cheap distortion for metal

Best cheap distortion pedals: Electro Harmonix Nano Metal Muff

(Image credit: Electro Harmonix)

6. Electro Harmonix Nano Metal Muff

Best for heavier music styles

Specifications

Controls: Volume, Gate, Distortion, Bass, Middle, Treble
True bypass?: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Lots of tweakability
+
Small size
+
Great value

Reasons to avoid

-
Subtle it ain’t

As one of the granddaddies of guitar drive and distortion, the Electro Harmonix Muff series covers gains and drives of just about every flavor, but none more metallic than the Metal Muff. With the EHX Nano Metal Muff, Electro Harmonix has taken the concept and shrunk it down, without removing any of the original's penchant for heaviness. This is not, it must be said, a subtle drive pedal. It is, however, one of the most tweakable on the list, with the usual drive and volume controls and then a full 3-band EQ section to truly dial in your dirt. 

We also loved the built-in noise gate, with on-pedal control, so in the rare quiet parts of your playing, you’re not faced with a wall of interminable humming. 

Best cheap distortion for build quality

Best cheap distortion pedal: JHS 3 Series Distortion

(Image credit: JHS)

7. JHS 3 Series Distortion

Best sounds for the budget buyer

Specifications

Controls: Volume, Filter, Distort, Gain toggle
True bypass?: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Sounds superb
+
Filter is genuinely useful
+
Suitable for many genres

Reasons to avoid

-
At the pricey end of ‘cheap’

We’re big fans of JHS. The JHS 3 Series Distortion, part of the Kansas City brand's low-cost pedal line-up, was arguably the best-sounding pedal we tested, with both the levels of distortion and the overall tone-shaping functions a cut above most others on the list. The filter control, for example, functions as an entire 3-band EQ in one knob, and we found it easy to dial in a sound which sat perfectly in the context of a wider band performance.

We particularly liked the ‘gain’ switch, which took us from a roomy, open overdrive into something much more saturated. Perfect for those moments when you need to let rip, but don’t necessarily want an all-out metal pedal

Best for versatility

Best cheap distortion pedals: Walrus Fundamental Distortion

(Image credit: Walrus)

8. Walrus Fundamental Distortion

Best for versatile simplicity

Specifications

Controls: Gain, Tone, Volume
True bypass?: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Love the sliders
+
LED clipping adds extra oomph
+
Nice design

Reasons to avoid

-
Dark mode gets quite muddy

Another entry showing off the low-cost option from a high-class operator; the Walrus Fundamental Distortion is one of the simplest pedals in the Walrus stable, yet its know-how with more esoteric pedals means the company has brought something to market that combines simplicity with complexity in a fairly unique way. 

The Fundamental is simple because it has basic gain, volume and tone controls – utilizing sliders, rather than knobs – which allow you to dial in your perfect sound. But then, should you want it, there’s room to explore new sounds thanks to the three different distortion types. Dark, Si (silicone) and LED each offer a slight variation on the formula, and make this a pedal which could feasibly be at home on the pedalboards of players in a range of genres. 

Best cheap distortion pedals: Buying advice

ProCo RAT on wooden floor

(Image credit: Future)

How to choose the best cheap distortion pedal for you

You can trust Guitar World Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing guitar products so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

Choosing the best cheap distortion pedal can be tricky. With so many variables, it can be hard to decide which pedal will suit you and your playing style best. Especially when you consider that distortion is a broad church, largely linked to the specific sub-genres of music in which they’re commonly found. Each offers a slight variation on the theme, running the range from warm saturation to shredded speaker madness. 

Typically, distortion is most at home powering heavier styles of music, like metal in all its different forms. However, even within the metal genre, you’ll find significant differences. For thrash and other technical styles of metal, you’ll want a pedal that allows you to scoop out the midrange from your sound, so a degree of EQ control is essential. Alternatively, for doom and stoner types of metal, you might want to think about how the pedal will interact with your amp’s gain, especially if you’re using a valve amp. The right distortion pedal here can make all the difference, allowing you to effectively push your amp even further while adding a bit of its own character into the mix. 

When you’re looking for a cheap distortion pedal, there are a few things to keep in mind. Not all pedals are created equal, and you often get what you pay for. There is value to be found in the cheaper pedals though. Look out for pedals with a built-in noise gate. A noise gate actively listens to your signal and only outputs a sound if it detects a loud enough signal, i.e. when you play a chord. Without that input, it engages a mute function, so you don’t get that constant low-level hum associated with higher gain pedals and amps. 

Fundamentally, distortion is one of the simplest yet most effective effects out there. The difficulty comes in finding the one that is right for you. And, whether you’re searching for your first distortion pedal, or adding an extra element to an existing pedalboard, hopefully, this guide will shine a light on some of the more inexpensive options available to you.

How we choose products

Close up of Boss DS-1

(Image credit: Future)

Here at Guitar World, we are experts in our field, with many years of playing and product testing between us. We live and breathe everything guitar and bass related, and we draw on this knowledge and experience of using products in live, recording and rehearsal scenarios when selecting the products for our guides.

When choosing what we believe to be the best cheap distortion pedals available right now, we combine our hands-on experience, user reviews and testimonies and engage in lengthy discussions with our editorial colleagues to reach a consensus about the top products in any given category.

First and foremost, we are guitarists, and we want other players to find the right product for them. So we take into careful consideration everything from budget to feature set, ease of use and durability to come up with a list of what we can safely say are the best cheap distortion pedals on the market right now.

Read more about our rating system, how we choose the gear we feature, and exactly how we test each product.

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